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Johnny Manziel says he feels ‘very blessed’ to get first CFL start for Alouettes

Johnny Manziel is ready for his Canadian close-up. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press via AP)

Johnny Manziel will take a major step in his attempt at career revitalization Friday night, when he will start for the Montreal Alouettes at home against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. It will be his first appearance in a professional football game since December 2015, when he took his final snaps for the Cleveland Browns before the NFL franchise cut him months later after numerous off-field incidents.

“It’s good to be back in here,” Manziel told reporters Tuesday. “I felt like the thing I’ve been missing, even over the course of this year and a couple years, is reps. And as you guys have seen the last couple days, a chance to get with the 1s and get some reps is what I feel like I really need and what I’ve talked to a lot of people about.

“So I feel very blessed to be in this position, to be back in a situation where I’m starting again. It’s good. It’s a quick turnaround. But at the same time, I’m excited for the opportunity.”

The Alouettes acquired Manziel from the Tiger-Cats in a trade on July 22. Hamilton had signed the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner to a two-year contract in May but traded him after incumbent quarterback Jeremiah Masoli got off to a strong start to the CFL season. It quickly became apparent that Montreal Coach Mike Sherman intended to get Manziel onto the field as quickly as possible, with his team struggling to a 1-5 start.

“We didn’t trade for Johnny to have him sit on the bench. Obviously he’s come here to get reps; to become the best player he can become. We started that process today,” Sherman said Monday, per the Montreal Gazette, about whether Manziel would replace incumbent starter Vernon Adams Jr. “You’ve all probably figured it out yourselves. At the same time, when you have two players [fairly equal], you probably wait until game time to make that announcement. It doesn’t make sense to do it any sooner.”

Montreal has burned through four quarterbacks already this season, with Drew Willy, Matt Shiltz and Jeff Mathews all getting injured — the Alouettes’ offensive line has allowed 23 sacks through six games — and Adams mostly ineffective in Thursday night’s 44-23 home loss to the Edmonton Eskimos. During the game, fans chanted “Johnny! Johnny! Johnny!” and “We want Johnny!” Some of them already had purchased Manziel jerseys.

On Monday, the day Manziel began taking first-team snaps in practice, Adams expressed his extreme displeasure with that reaction.

“Yes, it hurt me to hear that. I have nothing more to say or to give to the supporters of Montreal. Never again,” Adams told La Presse, per TSN’s translation. “Their behavior was very disrespectful. It was not like I was playing badly. I do not want them to ask me for anything, not even a small piece of equipment.”

“I do not care what the situation is. It was a lack of respect and it affected me,” Adams continued. “I tried anyways to make plays on the field. But that’s fine. In the future, I’ll treat the fans as they treated me. That’s all.”

Adams’s frustration may stem from the fact that Manziel is about to cost him his second CFL job. The Tiger-Cats released Adams in June, ostensibly because they had signed Manziel to a two-year contract. Adams then signed with the Alouettes as a free agent, only to watch the team trade for Manziel. But before Thursday night’s game, he seemed to accept the fact that he would soon become the team’s backup, offering up much more measured comments than the “never again” diatribe he delivered after the loss.

“Everybody knows Johnny didn’t come here to sit. They didn’t pay him just to sit. I understand he’s coming here to play,” Adams said. “As of right now, the Alouettes are [1-5]. I’m worried about winning a game. I’m not worried about what Johnny’s doing.

“Coach gave me the start. I’m going to come out here, do my best, lead this team, be efficient on second down and just have fun. When I have fun, I play my best.”

Manziel, who was not made available to reporters, apparently still has some work to do to get up to speed, though he said he was “getting there”:

“I think there’s some good things; there’s some good flashes,” he said. “Football’s a game of inches and little things and little mishaps that can make a play go awry. So we’re just trying to clean up the little detail things that I think we’re missing here that we’ll get on top of and hopefully be able to go out and perform. But I’m still learning it as we go, and I feel fortunate enough to be going against a defense that I’ve seen more than any other defense since I’ve been in the CFL.”

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